|15-21 October 2006|
|Sun, 15 Oct
Over to Macau to see how the enclave’s bid to be Asia’s Bad Architectural Taste City is progressing. Like a giant insect’s compound eye glaring greedily at the passing Mainland tourists it will soon devour, the casino section of Stanley Ho’s New Lisboa Hotel is taking shape. Composed of hundreds of coloured, reflective triangular panels, the thing is, to my untutored eye, a cacophony of bad feng shui. But bad for whom? The gamblers who will pour into it, or for Dr Ho?
The latter was shown on television on Friday night expressing effusive relief that Hong Kong police have arrested several people for the beating of Democratic Party legislator and lawyer Albert Ho in August. Albert is representing Stanley’s sister in a bitter legal feud. A previous lawyer of hers was also beaten up. Therefore, our vicious and mean-minded media, in whose dictionary the words ‘merest’ and ‘coincidence’ do not appear, seem to link the incident with the highly respected gaming mogul and, inter alia, patron of the Girl Guides..
His monstrosity needs a name. The glistening testicle? The monster Faberge? The building of a million mirrors? The yet-another building that will attract hordes of camera-wielding bores taking arty shots of reflections in it?
|Mon, 16 Oct
Am I the only person in Hong Kong who is not finding some way to suck the blood of his fellow citizens? Admittedly, the Government did build me a magnificent series of covered walkways and escalators, which whisk me up and down between Central and the Mid-Levels residential demi-paradise free of charge and probably increased the value of my flat at Perpetual Opulence Mansions. But that’s as far as it goes. I don’t burden schools and clinics with children and, if I did, I wouldn’t wet my pants like a three-year-old because I am too rich to benefit from a kindergarten voucher scheme clearly designed to help the low-paid. I don’t run to Queen Mary Hospital’s accident and emergency department for virtually free treatment every time I sneeze. I don’t live in public housing, ranting because the Government won’t cut my peppercorn rent or upgrade my bathroom. I pay full salaries tax, with zero deductions for dependents or a mortgage (having paid off the latter in the days when we didn’t expect other taxpayers to subsidize our home purchases). I am not a civil servant, whining about how cutting my air-conditioning allowance will hurt my morale, and taking it for granted that the public will pay me a pension for decades after I stop ‘serving the community’. I am not a car driver, helping myself to 80 square feet of road space everyone else paid for and clogging up the traffic so my obese, ice-cream-smeared brat can get to his violin lesson in comfort.
I am not in the tourism industry, demanding hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of free land so I can operate a profit-making shopping mall and call it a ‘cruise terminal’. I am not a property developer, offering to build a billion-dollar museum in exchange for the right to make 20 times that in profits from luxury mega-towers on a piece of reclaimed land originally earmarked as a park. I am not in the construction industry, gorging myself on Government contracts for unnecessary freeways on the harbourfront. I am not a member of the Liberal Party, demanding free land so I can bring back factories from the Mainland and ‘create jobs’. I am not Richard Li or Disney, shamelessly mesmerizing innumerate officials into granting me large quantities of public wealth with promises of making Hong Kong into a ‘hub’. I do not have a functional constituency in the Legislative Council able to veto any Government policy that puts others’ interests before mine. I am not an athlete, begging for public funding so I can indulge in my favourite hobby all day. I am not involved in information communications technologies, supply chain management, automotive parts and accessory systems, nanotechnology, design or film-making, gleefully accepting taxpayers’ cash from a blundering Government that thinks it can allocate resources better than the private sector. And now…
|…here comes medical tourism, another activity in which – barring several recommendations to use Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital should I ever need to – I have absolutely no involvement.
Someone has to pay for all this, and guess who that might be? The funny part is – I am far happier than all these leeches. Who could be more miserable and lacking in self-respect and simple freedom than someone dependent on the state for a hovel in a part of town they hate living in? Who can be more dissatisfied and frustrated in life than someone burdened by an SUV and a fat kid who needs a Filipino driver to deliver him everywhere? Who can be sadder than some wretch who spends years training to represent Hong Kong by running round a track in some obscure, regional semi-Olympics, only to be eliminated in the first round and return home with no medal and zero appreciation from a community that only likes soccer and horse racing? I shouldn’t laugh at how pitiful all these people are, but I can’t help it, such is the entertainment they offer. Now I think about it, it’s a delight to subsidize these parasites. They are worth every penny.
Tue, 17 Oct
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of restrained satisfaction. Another 1.6 percent rise from yesterday’s close of 18,010.2 and the Hang Seng Index will hit its all-time high of 18,301.69, reached in March 2000. By definition (discarding the theoretical possibility of a plateau or a never-ending rise), the index has always fallen since the last all-time high. Sometimes a long way. Also by definition, each all-time high is higher – at least in nominal terms – than the last one.
It is a bit of harmless fun. The index represents a weighted average value of a handful of stocks. There is HSBC, the backbone of any sensible Hongkonger’s portfolio. There are some monster Mainland companies like China Mobile and, increasingly, China Construction Bank – state-owned behemoths oozing political risk that seem to attract hordes of mindless investors. And there’s Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong/Hutchison asset-trading and cartels empire. The other constituent stocks, many of them family-run property and financial firms, have too small a weighting to affect the index much. Even Swire accounts for just 2 percent. Competently managed companies like Giordano or ASM Pacific are missed out entirely, along with unheard-of penny stocks.
The HSI (opening 66 points down a few minutes ago) does not directly reflect the well-being of the Hong Kong economy, nor the possibility that the city’s long-term fate is to stagnate under its benighted, post-1997 management. It reflects several factors. The main one is the state of the world’s economy (which in turn does affect the local one). Another is the degree of China frenzy – rumours of a Renminbi revaluation, for example, or the ongoing, nearly 30-year-old mania for exposure to the most amazing economic miracle in the history of the universe. The third is a special Hong Kong factor – the refugee-taxi driver-herd mentality that pushes the market too far on the way up and too low on the way down, and which makes Hong Kong’s stock market such a delight to invest in during panics like 9-11 and the SARS plague. In Kwun Tong, there are people putting fresh cash into the market right now, today. At these levels. For those of us gliding down the hill from the Mid-Levels, however, this is a time to wait, allow the pennies to pile up and be patient.
Wed, 18 Oct
The Circus later today will almost certainly pass a bill banning smoking in restaurants, bars, karaoke clubs and other workplaces and public areas. Even in parks, smoking will be restricted to a special zone totaling not more than one percent of the overall area – there will be a queue for this ‘nicotine patch’ in our smaller public gardens. Assuming, that is, the law is enforced. Pubs that ban under-18s will not have to comply with the new rules until mid-2009.
The law is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it doesn’t involve Government expenditure (other than the inevitable budget for finely crafted, utterly persuasive and highly entertaining radio and TV announcements), free lunches, subsidies, incentives, favours, ‘job-creating’ cronyism or other handouts of my hard-earned money. Second, there is a good chance that it will harm certain vested interests, including the restaurant and bar industry, which has its own seat (with a nice window view, well away from the kitchen) in the Legislative Council. A muffled, abrasive rumbling echoes through the streets of Central as thousands of people scratch their heads trying to recall the last time our visionary and decisive officials did anything that hurt an interest group.
There is a libertarian argument against such coercive state regulation of individual behaviour or of the way bar owners manage their private property and business. On the opposing side, we have negative externalities – restaurant staff keeling over with clogged lungs and having to be treated at non-smoking taxpayers’ expense. According to Kevin the Australian barman at the pub in Lan Kwai Fong, all his Filipino waitresses smoke, but the Nepalese ones don’t. (A few nights ago, one of the Filipinas was complaining about itching in her private parts after just having shaved down there. Meanwhile, an anti-AIDS campaigner was handing out condoms. Even after unwrapping it, the Nepalese waitress had no idea what it was – dropping it in horror when it was explained.)
So that just leaves the other 99.9 percent of our air – and Li Ka-shing’s power station, China Light and Power, several thousand Dongguan factories, taxi drivers, bus companies and SUV owners and their nasty fat kids – to deal with.
Thurs, 19 Oct
To Dr Barnabas Wu MB, ChB, FRCP (Edin), with acute pain across the lower part of my forehead. After emptying all the cash and credit cards from my wallet and stuffing them into the pocket of his green consultation jacket, he prods my face for a few seconds. “Ah – repetitive strain injury,” he announces. “You must have rolled your eyes more than a 100 times in rapid succession. Have you been reading any Government consultation documents?”
That explains it. I was trapped in an elevator between floors at S-Meg Tower for several minutes late yesterday afternoon with Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary and a copy of the Commerce, Industry and Technology Bureau’s latest Digital 21 Strategy. Faced with the alternative of conversation, copulation or some other time-consuming form of engagement with the Big Boss’s personal assistant, I had no choice but to flick through the pages of babbling Civil Service techno-waffle.
|The bureaucrats have so little to do that this is the fourth Digital 21 Strategy. It is “a living document,” apparently. Every other line prompts a groan and a silent plea to the heavens for release from the clichéd promises to meddle and throw taxpayers’ money away as part of an insane obsession with turning a city of traders and financiers into bespectacled geeks. “We will strengthen Cyberport and the Science Park … as hubs.” Please don’t feel you have to. “…cooperate with Mainland authorities and Guangdong Province on innovation, information management, and technological development.” Would anyone notice if you didn’t? “Hong Kong is uniquely placed to foster technological cooperation between Mainland partners and international market players to drive businesses up the value chain.” So quit the public sector and make some honest money doing it. “…facilitating … enabling … disabled people … CEPA … synergy … hubs … cooperation … partnership … creative content…” Over and over, my eyeballs leapt high into their sockets in their attempt to avoid the hackneyed Hong Kong Civil Service nonsense leaping from the page. Is there a single bit of vacuous jargon they’ve missed?|
|Dr Wu turns to his desk, pushes a glossy Mercedes brochure aside next to a dead potted plant, picks up his pharmaceutical price list and runs his finger down in search of the most expensive remedy. “And don’t touch any Government publications for 10 days,” he warns me, “and even after that, only in moderation.”
Fri, 20 Oct
I can’t resist the urge to call policeman friend Morris, Scotland’s finest contribution to Hong Kong law enforcement since the days when Jardines were beheading pirates on the waterfront. “This just in,” I taunt him. “No pay rise for civil servants next year.”
As with all public-sector workers, he greets this obvious fact with his department’s standard-issue variety of disbelief – in his case, Caledonian constabulary self-delusion. “Och nae, ye’re totally wrong there man. The lads’ morale would be totally shattered I tell ye.” He rambles on in his thick Glaswegian brogue about inadequate air-conditioning allowances and inspectors’ half-Chinese bairns going hungry and naked like in the Gorbals in his grandfather’s time.
But I have proof. The latest issue of stamps from Hong Kong Post – ‘Government Vehicles’ – is unashamedly designed to glorify the men and women of our disciplined services. Licking the delicately scented gum on the back of the little pieces of paper and attaching them to a clean, smooth envelope, our uniformed public servants will be overcome by a swelling of pride in their contribution to the community and gratitude that their employer gives them such high-profile recognition. When the news trickles down that, even after several years’ pay freeze, the public sector is still massively overpaid and therefore still ineligible for a raise, they will understand fully and not go into an embarrassing, mouth-frothing tantrum like a three-year-old being told that he has to share the sweeties with the other kids. Does any other government on earth manipulate its employees’ expectations with such cunning and sophistication?
|From left to right…
- The Correctional Services Department’s extremely macho Security Bus, which transports inmates too loathsome to be allowed in an ordinary van with bars on the windows.
- The Customs and Excise Department’s Mobile X-ray machine, whose officers gallantly scan a 40-foot container in 90 seconds, thus keeping us safe from whatever it is that shouldn’t be in containers.
- The Fire Services Department’s Hydraulic Platform, from which our fearless firemen rescue children, old folk and cats in danger, provided they are no more than 17.5 metres above the ground.
- The Government Flying Service Super Puma Helicopter, which is “perhaps the most sophisticated aircraft in the GFS.” (In other words, it is – but we can’t upset the crews operating the cruddier equipment by saying so.)
- The Hong Kong Police Force Motorbike, ridden by our gallant, leather-clad traffic cops, renowned for their unwavering and highly consistent enforcement of the rules and their really cool aviator sun glasses.
- The Immigration Department’s Launch, pluckily cruising the harbour is search of malodorous and scavenging illegal aliens trying to reach the pristine shores of the Big Lychee.
ALTHOUGH NO longer technically a civil servant, Rafael Hui is the ultimate Hong Kong bureaucrat – self-assured, suave, cautious, and so obviously superior to the rest of the city’s people in every way that we fall to our knees and beg him to decide how everything should be run, with no need for any input from our worthless selves. His latest policy brainwave is to get brand-name overseas universities to open campuses here. This is such an original idea that only Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Dubai, a dozen Mainland cities and sundry other inadequate parts of the world have thought of it before. Of course, they don’t have official policies of making land and housing artificially expensive, so it sometimes works for them. Never mind. It was a jolly interesting and exciting idea, and proof that our creative and lateral-thinking officials are worth every penny we pay them.